Bobby Brown

King of Stage

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Bobby Brown's style was still fairly close to that of his comrades in New Edition when he recorded his first solo effort, King of Stage -- an album giving little indication of the hard-edged, aggressive "new jack swing" that was only two years away on Don't Be Cruel. While comparisons to his subsequent work are inevitable, Stage is a generally decent, though not breathtaking, album that stands on its own merit -- and one that proves that there was indeed life outside of New Edition for the singer/rapper. Although Cameo leader Larry Blackmon, who serves as producer on "Girl Next Door," "Spending Time" and "Baby I Wanna Tell You Something," brings an undeniably Cameo-ish element to these high-tech funk smokers, Brown's individuality comes through loud and clear. But as enjoyable as the Blackmon-produced tracks are, top honors must go to "Seventeen" -- a riveting account of a teenage mother who turns to drugs and prostitution -- and the unapologetically sentimental, '70s-like soul ballad "Girlfriend." Brown sounds like he's going through the motions on the Rick James-ish "Your Tender Romance" and the lackluster ballad "Spending Time," but thankfully, Stage has more strengths than weaknesses.

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